Sunset Kickoff Invitational set for Dec. 15

by: NEWS PHOTO: SCOTT JORGENSEN - Members of the Estacada High School cheerleading team practice their routine in preparation for a series of upcoming competitions. Estacada High School cheerleading coach Abi Gango is very familiar with the stereotypes surrounding that sport and its participants. But she also knows enough about it to combat the inaccurate image that people sometimes have about cheerleaders.

Gango, who cheered at Portland’s Wilson High School, is familiar with cheerleading’s athletic components and its potential pitfalls. She’s even had her chin split open in the name of competition.

“We are athletes. We are gymnasts,” Gango said. “And we get our fair share of injuries.”

The EHS cheerleaders are set to compete in the Sunset Kickoff Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 15, in Beaverton. In preparation, the team is practicing three times a week, with one of those sessions typically involving a trip to the weight room.

“There’s a lot of talent on the team,” she said. “They are getting stronger, too.”

“Better, faster, stronger” is the theme for the routine that the team is perfecting. The girls have been practicing since June, with a few rolled ankles, at least one split eyebrow and other scrapes, bumps and bruises to show for their efforts.

“They are at risk like any other athletes,” Gango said.

Most of the girls on the team have dance and gymnastics experience, which comes in handy when performing their various stunts.

Cheer coaches have to go through a stunting safety course, and it changes every year. Some stunts that proved dangerous have been banned over time.

The team is led by captain Jade Loucks-Miller, a senior. Gango, a second-year coach, also has high expectations for junior Becka Whitlock, who was on Tigard’s varsity cheer squad as a freshman and boasts a gymnastics background.

Juniors Elena Pletcher, Sammi Colton and Ciara Licari are also among the team’s highest performers.

Over the summer, the girls learned their competition routine and also held a youth camp to help raise money to cover the cost of their uniforms and other expenses.

Winter is competition season for cheer squads, with the biggest events scheduled for Lakeridge and Clackamas in January.

Estacada placed third at Clackamas last year in the 4A small school category, where its rivals include North Marion, La Salle and Cascade.

Gango said she is hoping for the team to place third or better at the state championship in early February.

“They’re a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “I really think they have a shot.”

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